Surviving Spring

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The 2001 season for our Good Guys in Black perfectly demonstrated the all-around devastation and havoc a poor spring can wreak upon on a team. On April 2, the White Sox were on the road at Cleveland, and were seemingly poised for another AL Central Division crown. With David Wells on the hill, and defensive whiz Royce Clayton playing shortstop, Sox fans were supremely confident of victory.

On that breezy day at Jacobs Field, the Sox claimed sole ownership of the standings' top slot with a 7-4 win over the Indians.

But, in the days and months that followed, the Sox were subject to a cataclysmic, season-paralyzing spring breakdown.

By the end of May, the White Sox were barely kicking with a record of 14 wins and 26 losses, and the club would not climb above .500 again until July 16th of that season.

At the risk of overstating the obvious, the spring months of April and May have been perennially tough on the Sox. In the last 20 years, the White Sox have led their division at the end of May on two lonesome occasions - once in 1994 and again in 2000. Even the AL West Champion White Sox of 1983 and 1993 struggled out of the gate.

However, history dictates that when the weather heats up, so do the Sox: over the past decade, only the 1998 and 2002 teams have posted sub-.500 records in June.

For further proof, turn your calendars back to that magical June of 1983. Although the club was below .500 at May's end, the Sox weren't completely off the radar - they trailed the Angels by a mere six games when June rolled around. When Mother Nature delivered on Tom Skilling's prediction for hot and humid homestands, the Sox were only too happy to match fire with fire, and easily cruised to the division crown.

The 1993 White Sox battled and chafed through their spring. At one game above .500, they entered June once again as champions of disappointingly mediocre play. Incredibly, fueled by the resilience and desire of an at-last-cohesive young team, they were off to the races throughout the summer and brought their second-ever AL West title home to Comiskey.

Not all sub-par springs are created equal, though. Endurance, or lack thereof, plays a key factor in differentiating between teams. Consider the 2000 Sox: they absolutely dominated in April, seriously tanked with under-.500 baseball in May, and powerfully regrouped in June. Just as the 2001 White Sox were poster boys for "How to Come Undone after a Poor Spring," the 2000 White Sox proved to be a shining example of "How to Survive April and May."

The 2002 White Sox are, however, the perfect example of a team rendered totally useless by the events of May. Despite sitting atop the standings at the end of April, every aspect of the club's game imploded in May. The poor month carried over into June, so by month's end, and at 40-42 on the year, the Sox seemed bent on continuing their rapid decline.

The most recent White Sox post-season teams – the teams of 1983, 1993 and 2000 – are a collective tribute to elemental endurance, to simply staying in the hunt. They proved the key to early success isn't necessarily putting up the best record early on (though we'll gladly take it if it presents itself), but is the collective, consistent effort necessary in order to make a push when the bats warm up in June. These three clubs utilized three specific components to endure the cold early months:

1) Taking advantage of the schedule. To secure early wins, it is imperative to take advantage of all the favorable games in the schedule. Early in 1983, the White Sox struggled all around (8-15 record on the road), but stayed alive by winning 12 of 22 home games.

The 1993 White Sox also stayed in the hunt early by posting a 12-10 record against sub-.500 teams, and by posting a 13-11 record at home. Winning these games left them well-positioned heading into the warmer summer months.

In 2000, the Sox not only endured spring, they owned it outright by posting a 14-9 record against sub .500 teams, and were 15-9 at home. By taking advantage of the more beneficial games in the schedule, the Sox were in first place at the end of May.

2) Pitching. This second key component to surviving spring is so very vital: as the cold weather often restrains hitters, it is important to leave the offense with as little work as possible.

In 1983, the Sox pitchers held opponents to five runs or less in 30 of their 45 April/May games. In 1993, Sox pitching limited opponents to five runs or less in 30 of their 47 April/May games. In 2000, Sox pitchers held their opponents to five runs or less 34 times in their 52 April/May games.

3) Breaking out in June. Here, in this most crucial component, lies the heart and soul of true championship caliber teams. Though the 1983 Sox, 1993 Sox and the 2000 Sox all failed to put up winning records in May, all three proved to be incredibly resilient by posting unbelievably explosive Junes.

The 1983 White Sox were a magnificent 18-10 in June. This surge left them only 2.5 games out of first place heading into July.

The 1993 White Sox were 15-13 in June. By posting a winning record, the Sox were able to pull ahead in the division by a game and a half.

In 2000, the White Sox put everything together in June and finished the month 20-7. Several key victories in June put the Sox ahead for good.

This season, the Sox open up with many favorable games in their schedule. Taking advantage of these games is certainly essential for the Sox quest for a division title. The pitching staff is in place for effectively holding down early opponents, and with plenty of lumber promising to blossom in June, 2003 may be the year for the White Sox.

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